Saturday, November 1st, 2003
Put an eye on the stat-sheet for goaltenders after the first two weeks of
the season and none of the big names from a year ago are there. Not even
the names you've been used to hearing the past couple years. Don't believe
me? Let's play Radioshack: you've got questions, I've got answers.
Who leads the league in goals against average? Don't even try guessing because
it's likely to be your last guess. Blink again, pinch yourself, whatever
you need to do, because it's Carolina's Kevin Weekes, Mr. Notorious B.I.G.
(as in GAA).
The first five years of his career, he couldn't save a beach ball if his
life depended on it. His GAA never cracked the 3.00 barrier and in his lifetime,
has never had a GAA under 2.5. So then why the sudden change of play as he
sports a 1.25 GAA with 2 shutouts?
Wait, hold up. Who said anything about "sudden"? Remember that he started
things off similarly last year, too, going 5-2-1 with a 1.94 GAA in October.
You ask if anything has changed since last year? According to Weekes, if
his defense can help support him, he said his stellar performance can last
a little longer into the season.
Poor Weekes, because the defensive core that surrounds him is led by the
aging Glen Wesley, whose career is dwindling in front of him and will likely
end his career as a petty tropical storm. Expect him to live up to his
"notorious" nickname for another season.
Who leads the league in save percentage? Yes, he plays for Anaheim and no,
his name isn't Jean-Sebastien Giguere. It's last year's backup and utter
unknown Martin Gerber (not related to the baby foods company or Anaheim's
goalie during its first year of existence ... that would be Herbert).
Wow, talk about a sophomore slump. Jiggy starts Anaheim off to a 1-5 start
with a GAA reminiscent of something a young Kevin Weekes put up: 3.14. All
this while Gerber has turned the Ducks' early season around as the team now
finds itself in the second spot in the Pacific behind Dallas.
The team's goaltending authority, Francois Allaire, the man behind Giguere's
breakout season last year, assures that Jiggy is merely off to a rough start.
The verdict is that, either way, Anaheim's goaltending G-Unit is dependable
any night and because of them, they will find themselves in the playoffs
for consecutive years.
Who leads the league in wins? Yeah, Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars and Chris
Osgood of the St. Louis Blues are tied with four others for five wins apiece,
but they've also recorded four and three losses, respectively. It's those
four other players that deserve the spotlight moreover for their win percentage:
Atlanta's Pasi Nurminen, who's 5-2-2, Colorado's David Aebischer, who's 5-2,
the Sens' Patrick Lalime, who's 5-1, and the Bolts' Nikolai Khabibulin, who
has fashioned a perfect 5-0 record.
Let's start with Nurminen, who's riding the early season success and amazing
team chemistry of the upstart Thrashers. This team won't make the Southeast
a competitive division like the two other divisions in the Eastern Conference,
but they'll give Tampa a run for the division. The offense has come together
around Ilya Kovalchuk and the umbrella formation on the power play, which
has resulted in six power play goals, tops in the league.
Comparatively, the defense has come around the man between the pipes, Pasi
Nurminen, a third-year player whose progress has gotten better with every
year as his team continues to pump faith into the youngster. He's already
halved the amount of shutouts he recorded last year with his first one notched
against the Rangers in the second week of the season. He's not likely to
keep up his killer pace and neither is Ilya or the rest of the Thrash, but
he'll finish in the top-tier of goaltenders depending on how well the young
defensemen around him mature during the season.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche front-office will assure you they're not surprised
to see Aebischer outshine the competition the way he has so far in the starting
role as Patrick Roy's replacement. The last three years, he's lived in the
shadow of the legend-to-be, and is ready to show the Avs what he's picked
up over the years. He's off to a 5-2 start with a 2.01 GAA surrounded by
a defensive core of Adam Foote, Rob Blake, and Derek Morris that can pick
up the inevitable mistakes he's likely to make during the season. Regardless,
look for the Avs to shop for insurance for their playoff run during the trade
Lalime and Khabibulin are perhaps the two best-kept secrets in goaltending
talent around the league, despite having led their teams to playoff berths
last season. These two guys are proven talent and will lead their teams to
playoff berths again.
So, then, is the trend here is that the lower your age and level of experience,
the better shot you have of doing well in the NHL? Hardly. Many of these
guys are mainly just the sparks of talent that will take over as the next
generation of Patrick Roys, Dominik Haseks, and Martin Brodeurs.